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Posts Tagged ‘scientometrics’

This coming Saturday I will start a three-week visit to a university with teams performing research in neuroeconomics. The purpose of this visit is to perform an “ethnography” of neuroeconomics, focused on how interdisciplinarity works in practice. Among other purposes, this study will provide me with qualitative insights which will complement one of the other projects I am currently running on the bibliometric study of neuroeconomics.

A bibliometric study can be many things, in this case I am interested in how publications in neuroeconomics reflect its interdisciplinary nature. Online databases such as ISI Thomson help a great deal in performing such a study, and the remaining difficulties are probably of the conceptual sort (see the previous post!).

The results of those bibliometric studies are most commonly represented in graphs of social networks: they help read a tonne of information in just one picture.  I am currently training myself to use them, getting gray hair at pre-processing bibliometric files which then can be fed into those softwares…

This is how a social network can look like in practice (click on the pic to expand):

A co-citation network - green and yellow nodes indicate those papers citing heavily the original set

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Opinions about neuroeconomics vary enormously – to begin with, there is little agreement about what even *counts* as neuroeconomics.

In my historical study of neuroeconomics,  I am confronted to this difficulty right from the first step. Before even analyzing it, what is neuroeconomics, the field that I am studying? There is yet no journal of neuroeconomics which would map and delineate the topic, and there is of course no single parent field from which this sub-field can be traced from.

Lost, but with a map

Mapping neuroeconomics

The Society for Neuroeconomics is a useful rallying point where neuroeconomists can be found, but there is an obvious North American bias. More, an unknown proportion of scientists attending this conference would be reluctant to be labeled neuroeconomists, if I refer to the interviews I conducted there. So?

There is always the possibility to ask “the experts”, as it is customary to do in scientometrics. That is, I would not placate any arbitrary definition of neuroeconomics on the field, but would ask some renowned neuroeconomists what they would consider classic papers in neuroeconomics, or who do they consider to be the leading figures in neuroeconomics, and then start from there.

The problem with this approach is that leading neuroeconomists are truly extremely busy people, so the sample of experts that I could tap from would be very low, and hence surely not representative of all the currents represented in neuroeconomics.

There are many other ways to define a field, all with their particular drawbacks. One is to refer to the indexing of papers performed by Thomson Reuters‘ ISI Web of Knowledge, a database which records and indexes virtually all peer-reviewed journals and their papers on the planet since 1988. If a paper is indexed with the keyword “neuroeconomics”, then it can count as neuroeconomics. Authors who published a certain number of articles indexed with the keyword “neuroeconomics” can be considered to be neuroeconomists. However, this approach is equivalent to delegating the task of defining neuroeconomics to the employees in charge of indexing the papers at Thomson Reuters: given the immensity of their task, probably not the best experts in neuroeconomics.

I am in the process of finding my own (and hopefully, consensual) solution to this arduous problem of mapping a field which has still not a stabilized identity. But from experience, it is an issue where everybody can quickly come up with their preferred procedure. So, what do you think? What would be your procedure to arrive at a definition of *who is a neuroeconomist*, and *what is a paper in neuroeconomics*?

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